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PETA’s latest ad campaign showing the Shroud of Turin bedecked with
the words, “Make a Lasting Impression — Go Vegetarian,” couldn’t be
better timed, since word that

new dating
evidence
which goes further to authenticate the cloth as the actual burial shroud of Christ is certain to garner added attention to the Cucumber Crusaders.

Given all the extra eyeballs rolling PETA’s direction, it’s too bad the organization’s claim — that

Jesus was a
vegetarian
— isn’t half as authentic as the shroud might be.

According to one Oct. 2 ABC News account, PETA “said it chose Jesus as its ‘poster boy’ because he is widely believed to have been a member of Essenes, a Jewish religious sect that rejected animal sacrifices and followed a vegetarian diet.”

Widely believed?

The truth is that not only is evidence for Jesus’ membership in the meat-eschewing Essenes a lot like a malnourished fruitarian — a bit thin — but evidence to the contrary, that Christ ate meat and condoned it, is in abundance.

After his resurrection, as recorded in last chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus returns to visit his disciples and asks for some vittles:

    “Have ye here any meat?” And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and … honeycomb. And he took, and did eat before them.

Interestingly, the Greek word used for meat is “brosimos,” which, unlike other words for meat like “phago” (meaning anything edible), actually indicates flesh — a morsel of meat as Strong’s defines it. This is obvious from the context. Notice how the passage doesn’t say, “And they gave him a bowl of lentils and a few grapes.” It says they gave him fish, “ichthus” in the Greek. “And he took, and did eat before them.”

Then there’s the miracle of feeding the multitude found in Matthew, Chapter 14, and mirrored in the other three Gospels:

    And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled.

If Christ was such a strident vegetarian, why didn’t he give everybody pinto beans and rice? Or just bread? But no, he gave them “ichthus,” which is not — let’s be clear about this — a synonym for celery. The people were eating fish, blessed by Christ. “A vegetarian,” notes Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok, professor of Judaism at Lampeter College, “would have given out carrots, not fish.”

Beyond eating a few fish and feeding fish to others, many of Christ’s disciples were fishermen, whom he helped when their catch was a tad short:

    But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore. … Then Jesus saith unto them, “Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, “No.” And he said unto them, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.” They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. … As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, “Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.” Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes … and for all there were so many … (John 21:4-6, 9-11).

It doesn’t sound like Christ was opposed to a good fish fry, or a big one either.

We know that, as a Jew, Christ most likely never touched pork — not that he had a love affair with swine either. He, after all, never took great care to ensure they landed safely. One of Jesus’ many miracles was an exorcism of a demon-crazed, wild man who lived naked in tombs away from his village; both Mark 5 and Luke 8 give the same account. When Christ confronted the man and inquired the indwelling demon’s name, the devil answered, “My name is Legion: for we are many.”

As it turns out, Legion had made a cozy little home and didn’t want to leave. Luckily, there was a workable alternative:

    Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, “Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.” And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea (they were about two thousand), and were choked in the sea.

Jesus clearly valued the sanity and spiritual health of the demons’ victim more than 2,000 oinkers. It’s tough being a pig — and Jesus didn’t help much.

Neither did Christ tell the story of the prodigal son with any care for the feeling of pigs or individual rights of cows. After clearly indicating pigs’ company was less than desirable, causing the prodigal to desire going home to kith and kin, the boy’s father announces upon his return, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry” (Luke 15:22-23).

Why, pray tell, would a vegetarian tell a story in which the happy ending includes butchering a bovine buddy and lunching his carcass? Makes about as much sense as a teetotaler celebrating the happy end of Prohibition with a fifth of rye.

Then, of course, there is the pièce de résistance, Christ’s observance of Passover, in which a lamb was the principal item on the menu.

  • Mark 14:12: And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?

  • Luke 22:7: Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed.

When these passages speak of killing the passover, they are making a clear point about the central role the lamb played in the feast. It’s the principal element — like fabrication in one of Al Gore’s stories. To kill the passover is not to put the kibosh on a loaf of bread or strangle a batch of herbs. To kill the passover is to slaughter the passover lamb itself. For these tofu tyrants to point, as they do, to the lack of a specific reference to Christ gnawing on a leg bone as evidence for his vegetarianism is preposterous. That’s what killing, preparing and serving the passover is.

Along that same line, other than fish, bread and wine, the Gospels make little reference to any other specific types of food. Does that mean that the diet of the time consisted only of trout, a few baguettes and a bottle of pinot? Come to think of it, the Scriptures don’t make any specific reference to Jesus belching. If we go along with PETA’s thinking, Christ must have never done that, either.

As with most things, you can’t just tear Christ out of his historical context and expect to arrive at anything approaching the truth. According to Rev. Dr. David Hilborn, theological adviser to the Evangelical Alliance, the idea that Jesus, a learned Jew, would have snubbed meat for straight spinach and sprouts is “inconceivable.”

“He would have followed the dietary guidelines of Orthodox Jews and would not have eaten pork, but he would certainly have eaten other meat,” said Hilborn. “Jesus observed a tradition where animals were not only eaten, but sacrificed. There is no record of him objecting to the sacrifices or to the consumption of meat.”

PETA’s new role for Jesus — Christ to the critters — is “pretty far-fetched,” says Richard Sarason, professor of rabbinical literature at Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion. “It’s possible there may have been some groups (like the Essenes of Christ’s day) that didn’t eat meat,” notes Sarason in the April 16, 1999, Cincinnati Enquirer, “but not for the same reasons contemporary people don’t eat meat. … It was a form of self-mortification. It had nothing to do with animal rights.”

If PETA wanted to use Christ as a role model, it should have used Luke’s Chapter 7 reference to “The Son of man is come eating and drinking” in conjunction with its “Got Beer?” campaign. But, alas, PETA chickened out (poor word choice?) of that campaign because Mothers Against Drunk Driving got in a snit about an organization encouraging booze. (Never mind that God himself does in Isaiah, Chapter 25, along with choice pieces of meat: “And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow. … “)

For PETA to create the notion of a vegetarian Christ the same way God created the world — out of nothing — is ridiculous. Based on the evidence contained in Scripture and the basic historical context, Jesus was no more a vegetarian than the Apostle Paul was a dot-com executive with a coke-and-Prozac habit. But vegetarians would have us believe that Christ’s words from the cross were actually, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they eat.”

I am far more worried that they know not what they do. PETA’s use of Jesus for an ad gimmick belies not only ignorance, but also disrespect for people of faith. Worse, it shows disrespect for Christ himself, and that is something about which people should be far more cautious than their diet.


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